syrian troops backed by russian air strikes fight their way into a rebel-held town in the south. ♪ hello there, i'm barbara sarah, you are watching al jazeera lye from london. also coming up, central african republic votes in on election that it is hoped will bring stability after years of violence. a state disaster is declared in missouri, where rivers are still rising. north korea's kim ki-jong loses another top aid as a senior official dies in a car crash. and syrian refugees give a
much-needed boost to businesses in greece's second city. ♪ the syrian army backed by russian air strikes says its troops have fought their way into the southern rebel held town. the new offensive focuses on a strategic location on the main road connecting the capitol and the government strong hold, damascus, to the southern city. syrian rebels say the assault was supported by the heaviest russian aerial bombing campaign so far in the south. it's part of the government's offensive since russian joined the fight in september. moscow's strikes on syria have killed more than 2,300 people so far. 792 of the dead, more than a third, were civilians, of which 180 were children.
russia has denied its air campaign is hitting civilians. hashem ahelbarra has been following the story and join us live from turkey. first of all, tell us what is the latest that we know about this attack on the town, and why is this particular town so key? >> reporter: barbara, the syrian government backed by russian fighter jets managed to advance towards areas in the town. the air strikes started since yesterday, the rebels told us they have been battered by the russians, and that they were forced to pull out, that the syrian government took advantage, and sent troops inside the town. but that the rebels managed over the last few hours, but it remains to be seen whether they
will be able to hold ground because of the intensity of the air strikes. the town has been a -- a strong hold of the syrian opposition. it's -- it's a crucial road for them. they could easily channel weapons, and also fighters to the outskirts of the capitol, damascus, and the area has always been seen as a platform for any opposition offensive to capture the capitol. this is why the president was also concerned about the rebels there. it is also the birthplace of the uprising against bashar al-assad. >> it is also a very symbolic place. paint us a picture of which rebel groups exactly are strong there. >> reporter: that particular area, the southern part of syria, is an area where you have
different-backed groups with different loyalties. there is the nusra front which is the most organized and well-armed al-qaeda affiliate. it has huge control in that part of the country. there are also free syrian army groups. some of those groups were trained by the americans, and also armed with the americans, but they remain small groups, and their biggest problem, they have never been able to unite. it remains to be seen where this offensive is going to cause all of these factions to unite, despite their different ideologies. we have seen that happen in places like aleppo where the government launched a surprise attack to recapture the southern part of aleppo. rebel groups of different stripes united and launched a counter offensive. >> hashem ahelbarra with the latest there in turkey. thank you. and iraqi forces and sunni
tribal fighters say they are tightening their grip on ram after recapturing it from the islamic state of iraq and the levant. 52 families have been rescued. sweeping and clearing operations are underway on the northern front. but isil says it has launched a counter offensive. there are also reports of fighting in the city of fallujah. our correspondent sent this update. >> reporter: according to the anbar police chief, 500 sunni fighters have come to the front lines in northern ramadi to help carry out the clean and sweep operations. these are the two areas in northern ramadi which are key in order for the iraqi forces to cross the euphrates river into the central part of ramadi. they are confident they can take
on ramadi, but also other areas like fallujah and the surrounding areas. but the fighting still continues and the iraqi forces are saying it will take days to clear and sweep the whole area of land mines, exploysive rigged houses, and ied's that isil fighters have left behind. turkish police have detained two men suspected of plotting suicide bomb attack on the new year's eve celebrations. prosecutors seized this explosive device which was fortified with ball bearings and metal stakes all placed in a backpack. police say they also found an armed suicide vest and come-making equipment. the suspects are said to be turkish nationals from the islamic state of iraq and the levant. ♪
voting in do to have finished in central african republic in a presidential and parliamentary election that the international community hopes will bring peace to the conflict-ridden nation. the elections were delayed several times because of security concerns and voting was monitored by peace keepers and security officials. the ballot follows a referendum just two weeks ago. the country has been plagued by violence since march 2013 when a largely muslim alliance of rebel groups known as the seleka, overthrew the government of the president. that was followed by a brutal backlash against muslims by a mostly christian militia known as the anti-balaka, the tentative ceasefire was agreed in 2014, but the fighting has
displaced almost a million people. now 30 candidates are vying to replace the president. this woman is not allowed to run, neither are her predecessors. there are three front runners, the former prime minister who is backed by one party. this man who some accuse of having ties to seleka fighters. and this man, the most prominent muslim candidate. tania page is in the central african republic's capitol bangui, and she says the election hasn't been without issues. >> translator: some polling stations opened very late and some opened without any election material, that was here in bangui where things should be most organized. the head of the observer commission said their biggest concern was that some people have been turned away from polling stations like this. some people haven't received their voter cards, and although they had been told if they
turned up with a receipt and another form of id that they would have been able to vote. but there has been some communication break down between the voters and some of the polling station staff. people want this election to mean on end to sectarian violence that has rocked central african republic. everyone that votes has their finger dipped in ink to prevent them from voting again. some of the candidates have alleged fraud, because they say in some of the markets here in the capitol, voter cards have been for sale. there were instances of intimidation at the referendum two weeks ago, but so far this election is moving forward peacefully and calmly, but the country is volatile, a single killing can lead to days of violence, and for that reason, the head of the united nations peace keeping force here says his troops are on alert, they are ready to respond aggressively and swiftly to any
flare-ups. >> reporter: ghana's government says it has fixed electricity supply shortages that has skauzed years of frequent blackouts. they put out a statement saying extra money would be spent to generate more electricity. the announcement was made ahead of an election next year. it has been a hot topic especially for those who have suffered 24-hour blackouts. south american countries are experiencing the worst flooding in centuries. more than 100,000 have been displaced in total in the four countries. the uruguay river is now 11 meters above its normal level. heavy rains have been linked to the el nino weather event. after four days of storms, the rain has finally stopped in the u.s. states of missouri and illinois. but flood waters are expected to
continue rising for at least another day. at least 21 people have been reported dead, and thousands of homes have been evacuated. the national guard has been deployed to help with rescue efforts. the flood water is moving down the mississippi river and itself tributaries, with water levels expected to peak on thursday. let's go to andy roesgen in valley park in missouri, one of the communities effected by the flooding. tell us what the situation is like there, andy. >> reporter: barbara new developments here. we're just west of st. louis you see interstate 44 back there. we have just been told that a big stretch of it, about 24 miles will be shut down today because of the flooding. you can see all of the flooding and debris here. this water is six or seven feet above the ground. as you can see we have businesses with the water just starting to lap up against them.
all of this water is rushing in from the west. there is a river here to the west that has already crested at 35 feet. that's 20 feet above flood stage. all of this water is heading eastward towards us. and we understand the mississippi river will likely hit a record-crest flood stage tonight or tomorrow morning, somewhere between 13 and 23 feet above flood stage. that would break the old record set in 1993. and then all of this water, barbara, starts heading down the mississippi towards memphis and new orleans, those are the next big cities to get all of this debris. we have seen these big orange cones floating past. constitutional and buriers floating past as well. there are about 18 levy i haves in this area, they are worried about overflowing. when the water goes over there
is nowhere else for the water to go other than homes and businesses. the governor is saying get out of your home if the water is rising. he is touring the area right now, barbara, and we'll get a report about how many homes have been evacuated later today. >> you said the rivers is reaching record highs. and we heard there is lots of flooding in latin america as well. how uncommon is this kind of weather where you are, and at this time of year? >> reporter: well, very unusual for this time of year, certainly, and a lot of people blame el nino for that. but it is not that uncommon to see flooding of some kind. this area is surrounded by a lot of water, rivers and creeks that flow into the mississippi river, the last big flood here was in 2008. that was after the great flood of 1993. but this one could certainly top them all.
but the unusual part is the fact that so much rain fell in so a short period of time, and it is december. this is usually snow. and we have had 13 deaths in missouri, including five foreign soldiers. these foreign soldiers were part of -- working with an american base here, working with the american counterparts. they were swept away in a car on december 26th, the last of those five bodies was just discovered in the last 24 hours. we don't snow names or nationalities yet of those soldiers. barbara. >> andy, thank you. and still to come this half hour, a case against a plantation giant accused of contributing to indonesia's forest fires is thrown out of court. and the latest twists and turns in the scandal engulfing fifa. ♪
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>> don't miss the world exclusive undercover investigation. only on al jazeera america. ♪ now a reminder of the top stories here on al jazeera. syria government forces backed by russia bombers have fought their way into a key rebel-held town in any south of the country. voting is due to have finished after presidential and parliamentary elections in the central african republic following delays caused by security concerns and violence. and after four days of violent storms the rain has stopped in the u.s. states of missouri and illinois. at least 21 people have died since the weekend when stormed triggered wide-spread flooding.
an indonesian court had thrown out a case against a plantation giant accused of causing the thick smoke that has blanketed the region for months. the government accused the company of illegally burning thousands of hectares of forest to make room for its crops. >> reporter: ahead of the verdict, an environmental group stages a protest, to remind everyone of what is at stake, indonesia's people, and its forests, a company was accused of starting fires last year, that effected 20 hectares of land in the western island of ssa motte are. they were speaking $570 million in damages. but the courts found the evidence lacking, and ruled in favor of the company. >> translator: why would the company need to change its
practices. our client has done everything in accordance with the law. >> reporter: it's a setback for the ministry, which only a few months ago suspended the license of several companies, including this company over this year's forest fires. >> translator: we're going to appeal this decision. it's not only to bring justice for the people of indonesia, but also for the dignity of this country. >> reporter: forest fires and the resulting haze that blankets indonesia and neighboring countries have become an annual occurrence, straining reslay shuns with malaysia and singapore. this year's fires caused flight cancellations and school closures. more than a dozen have died. the world bank estimates this year's fires will cost more than $15 billion. some day a small-scale farmers who use slash and burn methods to clear land are to blame. others believe it is plantation own owners who use the tactic
who are responsible. but many agree it's lax enforcement of the law and corruption in indonesia that allow the problem to continue. >> because of this, the company and the people will say, oh, you can burn as big as you want, because they already give us permission. i think it's not a good idea. yeah, i totally disagree, and am very disappointed. >> reporter: the court's verdict isn't the only thing that concerns environmental groups. environmentalists say satellite pictures show several hot spots are showing. and they are worried that once the dry season starts in march, these fires could grow even bigger. the yearly phenomenon that has grown into a disaster for the indonesia and the region is unlikely to go away any time soon. there have be jubilant
scenes in china. a torch could be seen signalling for help, and when a camera was put down, part of the collapsed mine shaft in china, 11 workers were found. thigh are now being dug out. the korean official responsible for negotiating with south korea has been killed in a car crash. victoria gatenby has more. >> reporter: very few details have been released about the circumstances surrounding the car crash that killed this man. north korea's state-run news agency announced his death in a brief statement. >> translator: the member of the political bureau and secretary of the committee of the workers
party of korea, died sadly in a traffic accident at 6:15 on december 29th at the age of 73. >> reporter: as secretary of the ruling worker's party, he was one of north korea's most senior officials. he was an experienced negotiator who played an important role in talks with south korea. in august he helped diffuse tensions between the two sides after an explosion injured two south korean soldiers. the south korean government has paid tribute to his skill and hard work during those talks. >> translator: we offer our condolences over the death. he worked together with south korea to achieve a meaningful agreement at the high-level talks held in august. >> reporter: he was north korea's leader, kim ki-jong's
closest comrade. but his death is raising questions about what is really happening in the government. south korean officials says that kim ki-jong has executed at least 7 officials including his uncle. it's not clear what the death of such an experienced advisor will mean for north korea and its relations with its neighborhood. victoria gatenby, al jazeera. a french interior minister has condemned last week's violence in correspondent ka. on friday protesters vandalized a muslim prayer room on a housingest indicate where two firefighters were attacked a day earlier. he said there is no place in corsica for violence or racism. jonah hull has more now from the capitol. >> reporter: the french interior minister is here on the mediterranean island in the
capitol to see for himself the aftermath of damage caused when on christmas eva fire was deliberately lit here in this housing estate, the intention to lure firefighters in this who were then attacked. the following day, in response, a local mosque was ransacked and the day after that, nationalists marched through the center of town chanting anti-muslim and racist slogans. when he arrived he said he was here to condemn all forms of violence and racism, but france has a huge amount of work to do to begin to bridge divides in community relations that have never been under more strain than they are now, following the attacks in paris on november 13th. the far right front national party may not have done as well as expected in recent elections, but here in corsica, corsica nationalists have just taken control of the local legislature with immigrant communities in places like this, perhaps
feeling less and less welcome. more than one million refugees have reached europe by sea this year. many make landfall in greece. tourist numbers have declined, but some greek businesses say they are getting an unexpected boost from the new arrivals. our correspondent reports from the northern city. >> reporter: it is greece's second largest city with a population of more than a million people. the city's coastline is a major tourist attraction, but it's also an hour's drive to the border with macedonia, which is the main crossing point for refugees to the rest of europe. over a million refugees have passed through greece in 2015. many of them, went through the city, and that has brought much-needed cash to the local economy. slrnl >> translator: some of the refugees came here with money to spend and get by, as far as the economy of the city is concerned, all restaurants,
cafes, and boutiques, all shops had a positive boost. >> reporter: cheap hotel rooms have been in demand. the hotel association says more than 25,500 syrian refugees have booked a room for a night or two in the first half of 2016. the cheapest room you can find in the street costs about 20 euros. >> reporter: the city's major says greece is not after the refugees money. >> people, many syrians, which had some economic, you know, ability, they stayed in the hotel -- in hotels in the city for one, two, three, four days. but this is just passing point. in a crisis, there are some people who make money. i understand the same way we
make money -- the turks make money when they are passing through, they load in the boats and go to lesvos, who knows how much money they get there. >> reporter: at this station, refugees are stranded. they can wait days before police allow them to continue their journey. and that means they spend more money to eat and drink, boosting trade for local shop owners. >> translator: it's very big. it's become an industry. they ask for biscuits, sweet and sugar products, and basic stuff like socks and scarves. >> reporter: demand for transport has also picked up through the normally quiet winter months. buses bring refugees from at thens to the border with macedonia for at least 25 euros per person. this driver tells me he transports about 200 people a week. greece says the refugee crisis in 2015 is costing it hundreds of millions of dollars, but the
refugees are also helping some greeks and their businesses flourish. the u.s. technology giant apple has agreed to pay $350 million to italy, following a tax fraud investigation. italian authorities say the company failed to pay over $960 million in tax between 2008 and 2013. the move is part of a european effort to make multinationals pay what they owe in countries where they do business. apple has consistently rejected accusations that the company is avoiding paying tax. the controversial u.s. presidential candidate, donald trump is promising to spend $2 million every week on television advertising in a major shift in his campaign strategy. the billionaire businessman has been the front runner in the republican race. so far he has yet to air a single tv ad.
but with his lead crumbling in the first voting state, iowa, he has decided to change his policy. the federal office of justice in swizer lacked has frozen around $80 million belonging to football's world governing body fifa. the assets held in 13 separate bank accounts were frozen on the request of prosecutors in the u.s. the swiss have also handed over bank documents to the american authorities to be used as part of the investigation into alleged bribery of high-ranking fifa officials. and the priest in the philippines in hot water with the country's roman catholic church after arrives on a hoover board at christmas eve mass. there he is. the video of the reverend traveling up the aisle singing a christmas song has proved to be a christmas hit on youtube. but church officials are taking a dim view, especially as they
publicly are trying to promote a frugal lifestyle. lots more on that and everything else we have been covering on our website, aljazeera.com. ♪ deadly flooding, mandatory evacuations are called across parts of missouri. time fore a change, chicago mayor is rolling out new reforms for the police department. isil may be losing a tactical advantage with the recapture of ramadi. we'll look in to what it will take to remove islamic state completely. ♪